Tech firms need to play larger role in fake-news fight

Technology firms need to be held accountable for allowing the spread of fake news, and harbouring bullies, bigots and online trolls, in their pursuit of profit (Select Committee to examine fake news threat; Jan 11).

They must know it is bad for their reputations. European regulators have pressured social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google's YouTube to step up both the speed and number of removals of content flagged as hateful or xenophobic.

But regulating the Internet should not become a shortcut to solving complex social problems such as hate speech. As platforms and not publishers, tech firms cannot monitor everything, and wrapping the Internet in red tape will kill online openness.

The line between free speech and incitement can be hard to define at times.

In the final analysis, though, the overriding issue is this: Terrorism and extreme content are a stark reminder that the lawless, freewheeling era of the early Internet days is over, and tech giants cannot be doing the extremists' work for them.

Technology firms must, as part of the responsibility that comes with their new-found power, accept this and play a much larger role in the fight against fake news. Or governments will have to act strongly.

Wong Horng Ginn

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2018, with the headline 'Tech firms need to play larger role in fake-news fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe